just remembered something.

i’m writing an essay on the history of immigration policy in the U.S. and its implications about the American identity, and it’s really quite difficult.

as an chinese american who grew up quite sheltered, in a strong chinese american and asian american community, i don’t recall any incidents of racism or outright prejudice. however, i’ve always been aware of and conflicted over my ethnicity.

most of my friends are asian american; that could be because of the social network i was a part of in chinese school and via family friends. i don’t know if that’s really evidence for anything.

(this is what i remembered:) but my younger brother has used the term ‘american’ multiple times to refer to people who are not chinese. not even just caucasians but also african americans, hispanic/latinos, i’m not even sure what the full list (if it exists) of all the minorities in the US is. it was weird the first time i noticed it. i corrected him then, saying that we too were american. it was a label that we both knew was a bit clunky. it happened again, and again. i kept correcting him. but even so, i still knew what he was meant when he described people as american.

chinese americans definitely have a reputation for being good students, meek, really talented, competitive, nerds, a ‘model minority.’ people chalk up our achievements and attribute it to our race/ethnicity (i still don’t really know the difference). we even say it ourselves, usually in jokes and memes; “there’s always an asian better than you,” “of course you got an A on that paper, you’re chinese.” i call b/s. i know plenty of not-asian americans who are definitely more brilliant than i am. they just don’t care as much in class, don’t try as hard, have a little more freedom behind them. and i’d also say that increasingly i’m seeing non-asian americans meeting/exceeding asian americans in school, i’m seeing asian americans be really outgoing and social and have worse grades. everyone just wants to get into college. there are no hard lines; there are hardly any lines. but the lines are there, and that’s what makes me uncomfortable.

not saying that i want everyone to blend in and be the same regardless of culture and ethnicity and race. but there are tensions, and there is certainly racism. it is abating, thank god i can call myself a legal citizen of the USA, but especially with the coronavirus you can see that racism towards chinese people is definitely alive around the world. even while writing this, i have a qualm that people will think less of this piece, this blog, and myself because i’ve revealed that i’m chinese american. hopefully that isn’t true.

people, please don’t make assumptions about me. being asian does not make school a cakewalk. i am my own complex person with random thoughts. i try really hard and i fail a lot. i’m not a robot, i’m an introvert, i’m kind of a hot mess. i know others that are the complete opposite.

please don’t make assumptions about chinese people, and please don’t extend those assumptions to people from other east-asian countries; the cultures within and around china are extremely varied.

inevitably this piece contains evidence of my own perception of stereotypes and prejudices. to combat this, i try to keep my mind open when i meet new people, and don’t assume things i don’t know about them. i hope you do the same.

growing up with privilege

I may not reek of privilege, but I certainly am not short of it.

I am privileged to have a family that loves and supports me; I am privileged to have friends that understand me and connect with me; I am privileged to have a house in a neighborhood in a town I call home; I am privileged to enjoy the miantiao that my grandma makes for lunch; to have met people I admire and learn from them; to have a properly functioning body; to enjoy the delectable rush of sound that comes from four people with string instruments and the rumble of open C against my chest. I am in no way short of privilege.

But that can be constricting. My parents are first-generation immigrants who came to America with nearly nothing (yes, I’m aware this is a classic trope) but scholarships and the ambition of carving out a life (not even necessarily in the United States- my mom had planned to leave after uni). Together, they’ve given my brother and I a stable home, a family, love and nurture, a supposed head start in life.

That makes failure feel worse. Because when I don’t live up to expectations, of starting here and ending here, I face my own qualms of letting people down- letting myself down. I see other people who have started in roughly the same place as me far, far ahead of me. Why should I keep pushing forward when there’s no way I’ll be able to beat them? But I do anyway because that’s the track I’ve decided to take. I know I’ll end up at the finish line, maybe without distinction but at least I’ll be finished.

I wonder how I can be successful, how I should go about carving my own life. But there are so many choices and I falter at every step, second guessing myself. Is this path really going to lead me where I want to be? Do I even know where I want to be? So far all I’ve done is kept my options open, leaving the future a gaping question mark.

See? No room for large failures, because I haven’t committed to anything completely. And, I think, that’s precisely why I’m not distinct. I’m not sharp edges and straight lines; I’m a blurred amorphous blob quivering indecisively. Even when I know how much needs to go into a particular passage, I don’t know how to give myself, to completely go in without reservations or trying to save face. But the lack of commitment is wrecking me; it’s a form of self-sabotage because I’m left with so many ends to pick up and maybe somehow tie together.

So this is where my privilege leaves me: I have the opportunities, but I have yet to be someone of worth, someone worthy of privilege.

summer slump

this week, I’ve been staying home and languishing in the heat under the pretense of trying to get some other things done. honestly, I’d been looking forward to this time so much. 

my summer break began exactly one week ago. we were the last school in our state (possibly the entire country) to get out. so, this week, I’ve been staying home and languishing in the heat under the pretense of trying to get some other things done. honestly, I’d been looking forward to this time so much.

but in the past week, I’ve always been tired. kind of cantankerous, stuck in a sort of mind fog. always wanting to do nothing, yet wishing for anything that I’d find interesting to do. yesterday, sick and tired of this slump, I took to the internet to see if my symptoms were treatable.

two things that stood out the most (from a list of top 10 things making you tired all the time) were anemia and depression. (also lack of exercise and dehydration but let’s not talk about that right now.) I’ve already been diagnosed with anemia, and have been on iron supplements for a couple of weeks (but I’m not feeling much improvement). then depression. it’s such a depressing word, isn’t it?

I’ve suspected I might have had depression for a while. however, I definitely don’t want to take meds for it. I don’t think it’s very serious at all. it’s a mental thing, you go and talk to someone and hopefully it’ll be better. change your mindset… etc. besides, this week has had some pretty good moments.

anyways, the depression bit launched me into a new web surf. some articles came up. “why so many people are stressed and depressed“, “Why Gen Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” (even though i’m not Gen Y, but close enough), the book called Generation Wuss, and some more about the general uninterestedness of the iGen, gen Z, whatever you’d like to call it. all of those articles are based upon the premise that those in my generation are generally more depressed than others. they cite many reasons, such as smartphones and increased electrical “connectivity” bringing down the formation of real human connections and relationships, which we mentally depend on. they cite the fact that we’ve always been told we were special, but actually aren’t, leading us to be delusional about ourselves and causing a reality vs expectations gap. (this one made me mentally thank my english teacher for that speech she gave us, click the link for more on that.) they’ve noticed that life today is more about far-reaching goals and the long term, which causes stress. they have so many more reasons that i can’t bother to recall at the moment. they’re not wrong, either.

perhaps I feel this way because I can’t seem to grasp any far-reaching goals (idk what I want to be when I grow up), even though everyone seems to have expected me to. maybe because I am perhaps more glued to my smartphone and/or the internet more than I’d like to admit (after all, I’m posting this rather than talking to people) and I am grappling with the fact of me not being special (which has been proven to me many times in the past year and a half). perhaps it’s the thought of “i’m not special, but that’s only because i don’t work hard. if i really tried, i’d be more special than anyone else out there” that constantly pervades my mind.

it’s summer break. it’s only been a week. a week of languishing in the summer heat, a week of constant scrolling through social media feeds and web searches and youtube videos that never fail to come when boredom calls, when that gap where school should be needs to be filled. a week of slump. at the end of next week, I’ll be leaving for a 3-week stay-away camp, and school starts on august 20-something. there’s not much time, but right now it seems like all the time in the world.

so I guess what I should do is try and have real conversations with people, not the constant “small talk” which seems to be the only thing capable of leaving the confines of my brain. I’ll try to be honest with myself and the people around me, as that’ll save having to deal with keeping up images. (Mitch Hedberg once said, “my fake plants died because i forgot to pretend to water them.”) I’ll bike to my friend’s house again next week, and I’m going to Maine tomorrow. I’ll try to do less thinking and more doing. Or at least an equal amount of thinking and doing.

we’ll see what kind of person emerges from this summer.

oh, and also, if you’re like me and inclined to click on anything that remotely interests you, check out this slam poem that I think is at least slightly relevant to this post.

my grandma

my grandma still goes out for walks all the time. she still tends her garden. she still hangs out with the neighbors.

she lost her husband two years ago. I didn’t know him that well- hadn’t really interacted with him since I was a small child. he had cancer. her daughter (my mom) and herself were, of course, distraught, and my brother and I didn’t really know what to say or do.

in the now, she’s recovering from a broken wrist from a bicycle accident. she doesn’t practice martial arts in the mornings, either, but I know that before the accident, she did it religiously. every morning. she was even teaching one of our neighbors the art.

I’m not sure how old she is, but she’s started to forget about things. we didn’t really notice, until one day I found the stove still burning hours after we’d eaten dinner. until my mom found water leaking out of the plant pots, which my grandma said she’d been going to clean- but then we got home and her thoughts had wandered.

it makes me sad, because my grandma is such a strong and independent woman. last time she was here, she oversaw the construction in our kitchen even though she doesn’t speak a word of english. she was still able to communicate with the workpeople. that happened again with the guys who came over to trim our trees and bushes, at a time when my parents were at work. she has such strong opinions about almost everything. she’s a good photographer, too, after I taught her how to work the camera of her iPhone 8. whenever she comes to our house for one of those six month long visits, she manages to cultivate a garden, which we can harvest in the fall. green beans, cucumbers, pumpkins, and various greens.

it makes me sad, because now her wrist hurts all the time, and instead of doing taijiquan in the mornings I find her on the couch. she says she’s tired. the other day, she went to the mall with us. she never gets her own clothes, but she’s usually very emphatic about what styles are nice. her enthusiasm petered out fairly quickly this time.  

my grandma still goes out for walks all the time. she still tends her garden. she still hangs out with the neighbors. she still watches dramas on the television almost all the time. but I feel like we’re getting farther apart. I feel the distance between us stretching into silence.

when I was young, I had always been the good child. I was extremely patient, I was eager to lead my brother into any and every mess. I had the best ideas and was pretty talented as a child. I was enthusiastic about a greener world and gardening with my grandma. but fast forward to today, and I’m kind of a burnout. and I’m losing patience. what can I say? I’m a teenager…  I feel like everything nice there used to be about me is slowly dissipating into nostalgia, until I become one of those college graduates who can’t find a job and still live in my parent’s house. exactly the kind of person my grandma hates.

I’m afraid one day I’ll forget how to speak Chinese, and I won’t be able to communicate with my grandma at all. I’ll become one of those foreigners she has to yell and gesture at in order for any point to come across at all.

I’m afraid, but I shouldn’t be. (see? past me would never have been afraid of something as trivial as this. past me would go over to my grandma and give her a big, fat, hug. something I haven’t done in a long time.)

I’m not sure how much I love my grandma, or how much she loves me. I do know that both of us care, and I think that, now, I should go over and give her that big, fat hug that’s been long overdue.


not sure what this is. that’s pretty much the defining phrase of my life.

here’s how I’m different yet exactly the same…

  1. One day, we were at the beach. It was noisy and crowded, so we were amazed to see a family near us tugging a board full of clams to shore. The clams were huge. I was horrified- were they going to eat them for dinner? Those poor clams. I had to find one. Wading out as far as I could, to the edge of the din, I found a clam. It was huge. After showing it to my family, I waded back out and threw the clam as far as I could: nobody was going to eat this clam for dinner.
  2. 11:47, at night- I’m not asleep. I should be, but I’ve stayed up later than this before. I kind of want to go to sleep, but I can’t. I really should. I will, tomorrow. I will. I flitted through the day in a glaze, wondering at the time when I looked at the clock beside my bed, taunting me: 11:52, pm.
  3. The soccer ball is flying- out of reach- I can’t move fast enough- it’s gone, I missed- again. This should be easy, my brother can do it, effortlessly. It’s getting frustrating. I throw the ball back out, try to be ready for the next time he shoots. “I’m ready, when you are,” I tell him. He’s too good, he’s too good. The ball is flying- flying. I reached out, fast– tentative. Not enough. The ball bounces off my arm, through the invisible line between the trees. I missed, barely. Again. My arm is pink and bumpy.
  4. Why am I crying? She didn’t say anything mean, or bad, I know it’s all true. It’s going to help me, I know. She’s going to help me become a better cello player. Not that I’m bad, or anything; in fact, good enough to be in JRO, at NEC (which is not that great lol). I just need to correct some crucial things- fixing things, starting with a new teacher. I’m crying- why? This is so embarrassing. It happens every time. I’m second to last seat, by the way.   
  5. On my essay: “I think it’s too random, too ‘stream of consciousness-y’.” “You know, it’s not quite random– but you need to explain how you got from here to there– you need to hold the reader’s hand through it all. Otherwise, they won’t understand. They’ll be lost. Got it?”

thoughts on a pencil

Pencils: colorless, bland, and boring, yet allowing for thoughts to fall freely to the paper like raindrops.

      Pencils: colorless, bland, and boring, yet allowing for thoughts to fall freely to the paper like raindrops. We erode them until they’re gone or lost, like the tides do to the empty shells on the beach, or like sticks of chalk shrinking in your hand as you drag them across pavement. A pencil is adequate for expression, and grayscale is more wholesome, economical, and more widespread than the turquoise-and/or-purple-scale. After all, dogs see only in black and white, but they grasp a world not limited by sight. Pencils tend to cater to the other senses in a way the pen doesn’t. Sharp tips and dull stubs alike lend a clarity to the picture on the paper, the words on the page: reality recreated. Pencil lines blur smoothly through all the shades of metallic grey, but they don’t bleed, because blood drips only from pens. But blood isn’t needed to be alive- plants don’t have blood. Plants don’t need it.

        I guess a pencil could be sort of an anti-tree. It doesn’t grow taller, but instead shorter; it grows not leaves but meaningful words (all words have a meaning) and works of art on fluttering papers scattered in the wind. Trees use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy, and pencils- they take the unformed ideas and convert them into something you can look at with your own eye(s). A pencil is a tree, an angiosperm, a plant, a living thing.

        All living things, however, must be made out of cells, my science teacher tells me. A pencil, one could argue, is made out of cells (at least the wooden part). One could also argue that the graphite is the collection of ideas ready to be spent. But cold reality fails to see it this way. It tells me now, pencils are not alive. They may be made of cells, but are those cells alive? Well, I say, the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. Parts of a plant cell include the mitochondria, the vacuoles, the cytoplasm, the lysosomes, the nucleus, all of which would not be alive on their own. If all the parts were mushed together randomly, there wouldn’t be a cell- there would be no life. To pencils, this can apply as well: the graphite as the vacuole that stores the thought, wood as the cytoplasm, paint as the cell wall, eraser as the lysosomes… except, an eraser doesn’t remove waste from the pencil. It removes mistakes from paper. What to make of this? Is paper part of pencils, or rather, the conceived idea of one?

        “That is the whole,” Virginia Woolf said as she closed upon revelation, looking upon a flower in the garden in St. Ives. The whole pencil includes not only the pencil, but also the paper. After all, what is a pencil without paper? Without ideas and the guidance of the hand of a thoughtful creature? (There is the nucleus.) It may be that the “whole” differs by the individual, and if that is so, then here is my pencil: The wooden stick guided by my hand, metallic graphite smears, coherent pictures and ideas formed on the paper, eraser dust scattered throughout.